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Take Me Out to the Ballgame?

In the Lowery family, April is a month of many birthdays. Daughter Denise, son, Doug, a grandson, and I share the same month, another grandson was born March 31, and daughter-in-law Angie checks in on May 2. It has been our tradition to celebrate the collective observances with a single gathering. Having forgone family gatherings

In the Lowery family, April is a month of many birthdays. Daughter Denise, son, Doug, a grandson, and I share the same month, another grandson was born March 31, and daughter-in-law Angie checks in on May 2. It has been our tradition to celebrate the collective observances with a single gathering. Having forgone family gatherings on Thanksgiving and Christmas, a sun-splashed April Sunday enabled us to mark the occasion once again.

Not surprisingly, a conversation turned to baseball, and Doug asked me if I planned on going to any Pirates games this year. Those trips to the Burgh have been a summer staple for many years. I responded that I didn’t think I would be going this year. Surprised by my answer, Doug asked me why.

Too much hassle to put up with was my answer.

Like all MLB teams, the Pirates have COVID-related protocols in place this year. Included are requirements for masks to be worn by all fans two years and older, except when actively eating or drinking in the ticketed seat. No gaiters, bandanas, or vented masks are permitted. Masks must be worn at all times in common areas such as the concourses, restrooms, and the Riverwalk. PNC Park has gone cashless with contactless concessions and merchandising. All food and condiments will be pre-packaged. Purchasing of tickets must be done via cell phone.

A few hours later, when it became time to open the birthday presents, Doug handed me mine with the comment, “I guess I blew it.” Opening the very well-taped envelope was a gift voucher to purchase Pirates game tickets. Putting one’s foot in mouth happens to all of us from time to time, but I had sabotaged Doug’s thoughtfulness of a gift he knew would be perfect for me.

I get it. All the safety precautions are well-intended. I’ve had two shots of the vaccine. I still wear a mask in indoor public places. I practice social distancing. I watch more baseball games than most folks, but my take-me-out-to-the-ball-game enjoyment has not yet been updated to the 2021 ballpark requirements.

Granted, watching baseball on the tube is not the same as being there, and I miss that. It is good to see real people in the stands and hear the excitement of the ‘crowds’ rather than the gatherings of cardboard cutouts seen last season. The Pirates rather unexpected early-season success makes the absenteeism more difficult to take, but the Phillies and most other MLB teams are in the same boat.

In-person fan attendance varies greatly depending upon state and local guidelines. While both the Pirates and Phillies are operating at the state-mandated 25% capacity limits (9,700 for the Pirates and 11,000 for the Phillies), the Texas Rangers are the only team operating at 100% capacity of 40,300. At the other end of the spectrum are the Toronto Blue Jays. Canada’s COVID lockdown has forced the team to play regular-season games at their Dunedin, Florida spring training complex with an allowed 23% capacity of 1,950 fans permitted in the ballpark.

The Atlanta Braves are the only team operating at 50% (20,500), and will be moving to 100% capacity in May, followed by the Rockies 42.6% (21,363), the Diamondbacks 40% (20,000), and the Indians 40% (14,000). The Orioles are permitting 25% (11,000), the Yankees 20% (10,850) and Mets 20% (8,492). The Red Sox are operating with the lowest percentage in MLB 12% (4,500).

As COVID vaccines have increased, MLB has “strongly encouraged” players and staff members to be vaccinated. New league protocols apply to fully vaccinated Tier 1 individuals or teams where 85% of individuals are fully vaccinated. Individuals meeting that requirement can gather without masks in hotel rooms, carpool together, play cards on airplanes, eat at restaurants, meet outdoors while on the road, and stay at personal residences when traveling, among other things. Teams achieving the 85% rate would no longer have to wear masks in the dugout or in the bullpen.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has released a statement stating, “There is no question that being vaccinated is the single most important step that anyone can take to be protected — and to protect others — from the virus.”

All 32 NFL teams are participating in a vaccination education program in conjunction with the NLFPA. The league has partnered with a pharmacy to provide vaccination clinics for players, team employees, and their families.

The NBA has enacted similar policies to lighten health and safety protocols for teams when 85% of players and staff have received the vaccination.

The NHL has not adopted a covid requirement. Reportedly, a source indicated hockey players appear more agreeable to getting vaccinated than their counterparts in other sports. Hence, the league and players union believe a similar policy is not needed.

Locally, the Williamsport Crosscutters are proceeding with plans to open the inaugural season of the MLB Draft League on May 24, with the home opener set for May 25. Fan in-person attendance will be in adherence with the state’s 20% capacity limitations. Ticket information can be obtained by contacting the Cutters offices at 570-326-3389 or the team’s website at crosscutters.com.

Keep rooting out there, and let’s all do it safely.

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